Change is coming: the slow destruction of the legal profession

Change is coming: the slow destruction of the legal profession

By Mark Smith

In the year 2000, Tom Peters, in his characteristically bullish manner, suggested that within 10 years 90% of American white-collar jobs would have disappeared. His assertion was that this would be driven by intense global competition intensified by destructive local entrepreneurs, new productivity tools and global outsourcing.

Now with the benefit of hindsight, we can see that the number of job losses was clearly not as high as 90%, but it is also clear that many professions have undergone significant structural change with job-losses compounded (and possibly masked) by the deep recession. If you were to look at, for example, the finance or human resources functions in large organisations today, they would indeed look radically different to their predecessors that existed at the turn of the millennium. Technology, outsourcing and global competition have undoubtedly caused widespread and permanent change. Except in the law?

The law as a profession has always been slow to change. With often deeply risk-averse practitioners, protected from the cold winds of competition by layers of regulation, and operating in a market dominated by partnership organisational structures which because of their consensual nature are hugely change resistant, this is not surprising.

But at least here in the UK, change is very definitely afoot. Underpinned by the Legal Services Act, accelerated by the tough economic conditions, and with outsourcing and technology slowly beginning to take a foothold in the market, suddenly the future looks very different. For new lawyers entering the profession, what looked like a secure, linear path to a profitable and comfortable life as an equity partner now looks much less certain.

So where is this going? Will 90% of lawyer jobs disappear within the next 10 years? The short answer, is (as with Tom Peters original prediction), this is likely to be something

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About the author:
Mark Smith is a Market Development Director at LexisNexis. Mark worked as a solicitor for ten years, specialising in technology and outsourcing work.